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Last night I was at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for what turned out to be one of the more memorable shows I’ve ever attended. I was there for Tinariwen (on whom more below). I had never heard of the opener, Kishi Bashi, not even via the use of his music (as I now learn) in a familiar Windows 8 commercial, and even if I had made the connection I would not have expected his music to be my thing. Support bands you’ve never heard of are often a bit of a lottery, and as two guys with a violin and a banjo took the stage I was ready for anything, but little expected what followed. Working with an amplified violin, various looping devices, and the assistance for half the set of Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees on banjo and bass, Kishi Bashi (real name K. Ishibashi) strung together a series of loop-based pieces that defied genre categorization. He is blessed with formidable skills on the violin, a pure and powerful voice, and apparently boundless energy and musical imagination. Picture Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós singing bluegrass-classical-folk-pop-experimental pieces structured like miniature progressive rock epics interspersed with beatboxing and driven by double-speed loops created live and you’ll be half way there.

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Like all music scenes, the Twin Cities have their own pantheon of local greats.  Prince, The Replacements, The Suicide Commandos, The Suburbs, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, and Atmosphere to name a few.  Then there is Hüsker Dü.  Active from 1979-1987, Hüsker Dü is a music typologist’s nightmare.  Initially the band’s work could be described as ‘hardcore’, but over the years both songwriters, Bob Mould and Grant Hart, drifted more and more into poppier college radio territory.  Taken as a whole the band’s catalog can claim, as with a number of other independent ’80s bands, inspiration for all the ‘alternative’ and ‘modern’ rock that was to follow (Kim Deal famously joined Pixies after answering an ad looking for a bass player who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü).  Perhaps more importantly, though, Hüsker Dü was at the forefront of the ’80s DIY movement which helped create the independent music scene (regardless of genre) that we enjoy today.*

It has been 25 years since Hüsker Dü called it quits following its final performance in Columbia, Missouri.  During that time each of the band members has moved on with their lives.  Bob Mould has had a very successful career both as a solo artist and with the band Sugar, Grant Hart has been less commercially successful but has put out some no less excellent music with the band Nova Mob and under his own name, and Greg Norton took his handlebar mustache to chef school and now owns a restaurant in Red Wing, Minnesota.  I decided it would be interesting to explore how the places that were important to the band have changed in that same time period, so I did some research, grabbed my camera, and toured the Twin Cities.  This is the result:

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12

Sep

2012

Vital Albums – 2012 Free Mixtapes

By Craig McManus. Posted in Free Music, R&B, Rap, Vital Albums | No Comments »

Thus far, 2012 has been a fantastic year for free mixtapes and LPs.  While there hasn’t been anything with the widespread impact of The Weeknd’s 2011 trilogy, the depth and breadth of free releases demonstrates that artists across genres are taking advantage of the internet to get their music into people’s hands like never before.  In furtherance of our goal at Music is Good to highlight some lesser known, but no less important music, below are three that should be a part of any music collection:

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22

Aug

2012

Splashgirl – “Pressure”

By Dave Sumner. Posted in Jazz | No Comments »

 

The Nordic Jazz sound has situated itself solidly at a distance from Jazz’s epicenter… introspective, austere, with drifting melodies, and rhythms that often eschew swing for drama. And as musicians from that fold push the envelope ever outward, it gets to where, perhaps, the music stops being Jazz at all. In the face of whether an album is of value, this genre philosophizing is a small matter.

What is of more compelling, though ancillary interest, is that by pushing the borders of Jazz outward, musicians who typically play other types of music are testing the waters of Jazz. Some, like Splashgirl, have actually built a foundation in one of the slight areas of fuzziness where genres cross over.

Combining elements of a Jazz piano trio, ambient electronica, and alt-classical new-schoolers like Nils Frahm, with Pressure, Splashgirl has created an intoxicating brand of music that may be tough to categorize, but very easy to enjoy.

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13

Aug

2012

Three Analog Delights

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | No Comments »


Compared with more traditional instruments that have been played for centuries, the analog synthesizer went from cutting-edge to retro in a remarkably short space of time. With the advent of digital processing and the laptop as the music tool of choice for a new generation of electronic musicians, there was a time when it felt as if the analog synthesizer, which came into its own in the 1960s, might have had a shelf-life measured in mere decades. It had offered a couple of distinctive motifs to the musical world – cosmic atmospherics and the insistently pulsing sequencer rhythm – before ceding the stage, like the protagonists of Toy Story, to more up-to-date electronic playthings. The association of early analog synth sounds with an era in science fiction whose ray-guns-and-jetpacks vision of the future now seems quaint added to the curious cultural positioning of synth music as futuristic yet almost immediately retro. For at least some of us who grew up with Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream, the digital revolution was not all unalloyed gain. Thankfully, fears of obsolescence have proved premature – a steady flow of recent releases continues to unfold the possibilities of the synthesizer sound world, whether with vintage equipment or its hand-constructed descendants. The three albums below are my favorites from the first half of 2012.

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Dirty Projectors brought their new album Swing Lo Magellan to First Avenue in Minneapolis on July 15, 2012, and Purity Ring tagged along for the last of their six dates opening on the tour before their debut LP, Shrines, is released on July 24 via 4AD.  I came home from the show with Shrines (at first listen it’s as good as hoped), and a Dirty Projectors’ tour only 7″ (limited to 1000) that cannot be purchased but is free when you tell the merch booth the secret Twitter word for that show (this time it was “Fuel Vapour Hose”). It has the unreleased tracks “Buckle Up” and “Desire to Love”, and only about 20 are being brought to each show.  I passed on the “Gun Has No Trigger” square 7″ that comes in a hard case with the lyrics to the song etched into the case in cuneiform. My wife already rolls her eyes at me enough so I didn’t drop $15 for that. It was seriously cool looking though.

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2

Jul

2012

Review: Valta by Alamaailman Vasarat

By David Smith. Posted in Folk, Jazz, Reviews, Rock, World | No Comments »

Valta

Slumber takes you, and as time passes, you slip into a vivid dream. You are at a heavy metal concert, and thrill to the first deep and doom-laden, viscerally crunching chords. Then you realize that what you thought were guitarists have morphed into cellists, and as the tempo shifts into double time a saxophone adds a frenetic melody. As you look around you find that you are actually sitting outside a cafe in Eastern Europe, and what started as a metal band is now playing klezmer. Some villagers are dancing – somehow it doesn’t strike you as odd that they are dancing the tango, or that evocative middle eastern melodies drop in and out of the tune. You glimpse palm trees, and then hear a jazz ensemble playing somewhere behind you as a marching brass band passes in front, with heavy metal riffs returning to punctuate their melody. But as you turn to watch, you are sitting in the corner of a deserted café in which the pianist is playing his way plaintively towards closing time. In your dream all of this makes sense; the transitions are not jarring but part of an oddly continuous dream logic in which you are in constant movement toward a destination that is ever on the tip of your tongue, yet each passing location is oddly right and vivid.

Such is the experience of listening to an album by Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat (which translates as “Hammers of the Underworld”). Alamaailman Vasarat create hugely entertaining instrumental music that draws from a bewildering variety of world music genres and fuses them within a progressive-rock-like inclination towards ever-shifting rhythms and bombastic flourishes.

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25

Jun

2012

Ars nova

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in A History of Classical Music, Classical | No Comments »

A History of Classical Music through Recordings: Part 6

Philippe de Vitry and the Ars Nova”. Orlando Consort. Amon Ra (link)

In the 1320s, two Paris-trained mathematicians who were also musicians published similarly titled treatises that pointed to a new direction for composition: Jehan des Murs’s Ars novae musicae and Philippe de Vitry’s Ars nova. The essence of this “new art” – Ars nova has become the name given to the general compositional style of the 14th century in France – was a move beyond the idea of “perfection” associated with the number three. Where the Franconian system divided the perfect long into three breves and divided breves into semibreves worth one- or two-thirds of a breve, Vitry and Jehan argued that it was fine to have an imperfect long comprising two breves of equal length, or a breve divided into two equal semibreves, and a semibreve divided into two shorter notes (the minimum note length, or “minim”). Moreover, a composer could mix-and-match between the use of two or three subdivisions, so that a long might be split into three breves but the breve might comprise just two semibreves. The first compositions demonstrating these ideas are some by Vitry that appeared in a 1316 edition of the Roman de Fauvel, a satirical poem attacking the moral state of France at the time; this particular edition included some 169 musical items, both old and new, providing a kind of soundtrack to accompany events in the story. By freeing the rules of composition from the ideology of “perfection”, the Ars nova opened up a wide range of possibilities for rhythms, not least of which was duple time (one-two one-two) – not that duple time didn’t exist in music until then, but now there was a formal system for writing, and composing, in it. With shorter note values being used, the music could move at a faster pace, and the tenor part of a motet became relatively longer, such that it ceased to provide a recognisable melodic component and instead formed a structural foundation for the polyphony. This structure is reflected in a feature of the Ars nova motet called isorhythm, the use of repeated statements of one rhythmic pattern that didn’t necessarily correspond to melodic patterns. Initially, isorhythm was used only in the tenor, but it soon spread to the upper voices also, giving greater organization to the composition as a whole.

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29

May

2012

Concert Review: Soundset 2012

By Craig McManus. Posted in Concert Review, Hip Hop, Indie, Rap | 2 Comments »

Founded in 1995 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rhymesayers Entertainment has risen to the top of the heap of independent hip hop labels.  Over the years it has grown from releasing albums solely by its founders, to becoming the home base for most of the surprisingly fertile Minnesota hip hop scene, and finally to being the label home for albums by indie hip hop greats regardless of hometown.  In fact, since its founding, Atmosphere, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S have all called Rhymesayers home.

Despite this success, Rhymesayers continues to expand as it follows its mission to put its “dreams, passions, and destinies in their own hands.”  One of those dreams is to continue growing hip hop in the Twin Cities area, so in 2008 Rhymesayers founded the Soundset hip hop festival.  Held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Soundset started in the Metrodome parking lot, but has since moved to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota.

More important then the location switch, however, the last five years have seen Soundset grow beyond showcasing solely artists on the Rhymesayers label to bringing both titans and the next generation of hip hop to the upper Midwest.  2012 was no exception as Ghostface Killah & Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco joined Atmosphere as scheduled headliners while Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar, and Danny Brown played earlier in the day with Rhymesayers’ own I Self Devine and Evidence.

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The releases highlighted below are just some of the best-reviewed albums in the latest issues of International Record Review (May), Gramophone (June), and BBC Music Magazine (June).

Four string quartets by “Danish maverick” Rued Langgaard (Dacapo 6.220575) are a Choice of both Gramophone and BBC Music. In the latter, Stephen Johnson praises the Nightingale Quartet for understanding “the provocative vitality, the fragile romantic sensitivity and the striking intellectual independence behind it all”, while in Gramophone David Fanning notes that the quartet “throws itself into the music with a vehemence and sense of purpose”. Both of these magazines also praise pianist Yuja Wang’s “Fantasia” (DG 479 0052GH), a collection of her favourite encores; BBC Music’s Michael Church says that “Given that these bonnes bouches were never designed to be consumed in bulk, this young virtuoso has pulled off a remarkable feat”, and Bryce Morrison in Gramophone says “Wang is clearly one of the major talents of our time and her playing throughout is of an astonishing verve, style and dexterity”. Morrison also finds plenty of praise for the latest from Olli Mustonen, a disc of Scriabin (Ondine ODE1184-2): “This is Scriabin as you have never heard him before, played by one of music’s most formidable and compusive free spirits… The music is made to leap flame-like and uncontained from the page”. Guitarist David Russell, too, is a Gramophone Choice with a disc of transcriptions entitled “The Grandeur of the Baroque” (Telarc TEL33223-02) in performances that William Yeoman calls “revelatory”; for instance, Russell’s performance of four three-part Sinfonias by Bach “is the epitome of clarity, grace, humour and melancholy”.

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